Our First Livestock Loss

Current Affairs, Food & Drink, Livestock, Nature

rip-chickenIt was bound to happen, of course. We prepared ourselves by buying eight chicks, when we only wanted and expected six full-grown hens. Either they would die in chick-hood, we thought, or one of them would turn out to be a cockerel — as sexing chickens at one day old is an inexact science. Or perhaps, as ended up happening, one would get gotten by a predator.

But it’s still disturbing, especially since we’ve gone so far without any losses. It didn’t help that the one we lost was the only one that was laying regularly — we called her Layla, as a result. It was completely my fault, though I have lots of explanations for what happened.

I went out the other evening to feed them and close up their coop for the night. Usually, at that time, the chickens crowd around and eat for a little while before beginning their bedtime routine — one by one they hop up to the perch my husband built high inside the A-frame coop. It went quickly that night — too quickly, I found out later. I closed up the coop with satisfaction, thinking I had everyone safe inside. In fact, I’d left two out in the cold — including Layla.

Typically, I would have counted the chickens either before they get into the coop or afterwards, but that high perch is quite dark and it’s difficult to see how many are perched there, especially because that night I was having trouble with my contact lenses and was wearing glasses instead. These glasses tend to slip off my nose on quite a regular basis. So, I didn’t check. Nothing had ever gone wrong before, right? Not a good way to be thinking in the world of animal husbandry.

Early the next morning, a noise woke me at around 5 a.m. I didn’t know what the sound was, but identified it as “a chicken noise.” Not much later, the dogs started barking from the living room — they were inside, as we’ve gotten complaints from neighbors about barking late at night. It’s tough for erstwhile Livestock Guardian Dogs to do their jobs when they’re not out with the stock.

Anyway, my hero, Michael, went out to check and — though I still couldn’t see because I didn’t have contact lenses OR glasses on — told me there had been one stunned-looking Barred Rock on top of the coop, which he put inside. Did I mention it was raining and a cold front was blowing in? With the light from his cell phone, and his better-vision-than-mine, he could tell that another Barred Rock was missing.

“Who closed up the coop tonight?” Michael asked me with irritation. It was totally me, and I admitted it, while kicking myself repeatedly for my stupidity. Somehow we managed to get back to sleep, thinking we’d search for the missing bird in the morning. Perhaps she was perched in a tree somewhere, we thought hopefully, and she’d turn up once the sun rose.

And, she did turn up, or at least part of her did. Her stiff torn-up body was caught up in the non-electrified electric-capable netting that we’d put out, with plans to attach the electric fence charger as soon as we removed some weeds and got all the parts together. It was too late for Layla, though. Her feathers are still scattered all over the area where we found her.

As we mourned for her yesterday, we had another terrible scare — a large Rottweiler-looking dog charged onto our property and headed straight for the chickens, which scattered rapidly with a lot of noise and wing-flapping. Callum shouted, “Dog!” Michael, followed quickly by Cocoa, ran down the hill to confront the intruder, shouting loudly and scaring it away.

Then, as we began searching for the flock, another canine charged in. Michael and our dogs frightened this second one away, while the rest of us began scouring the woods for our scattered birds. It was shocking how easily and quickly the dogs showed up, bringing home the reality of how lucky we’d been to have no losses up until now.

It took a while to round up the rest of the girls, and one remained missing in action for quite a while, apparently remaining in hiding in the woods even after things settled down. But all seven were OK in the end — a bit tired and wary, but OK.

We didn’t need much more encouragement to actually set up the electric fence properly. Once it was electrified, the chickens kept a bit of distance from it, meaning there wasn’t the danger of their getting caught up — or at least not as much of a danger. And we got a hint of how dogs would react to it when Cocoa got a bit too close, then leaped away yelping with fear. The chickens won’t be able to roam quite as widely as before, but they will be safer and we’ll move it  (and their coop) around regularly so they get a little variety in their life.

During the round-up, I caught one of the Barred Rocks and put her in the coop for safekeeping while I searched for the others. Wouldn’t you know it… she used that time wisely. I checked on her after she made some rather alarming sounds — known in chicken circles as the “egg song” — and there in the nest, still warm, was a small brown egg.


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